Sunday’s mid-season premiere was provided prior to broadcast.
With due respect to Showtime’s Billions, no series currently on the air is as obsessed with economy as The Walking Dead. On a micro level, this plays out in the desperate compromises the show’s survivors must constantly entertain. Just which resources, people, and morals are truly expendable in a zombie apocalypse? And in terms of macroeconomics, you could reliably chart the fluctuating quality of The Walking Dead itself, which moves according to predictable patterns. Based on Sunday’s mid-season premiere, the obvious takeaway would be that the show is heading for a boom period, as “No Way Out” is perhaps the best episode of season 6 so far.
Now, are you at all surprised to hear that the show is putting its best foot forward? Or, are you already marking your calendar for when we’ll see those familiar “The Walking Dead is Finally Good Again!” pieces, the ones that pop up roughly two months before the “How The Walking Dead Lost its Way” articles.
Getting a knockout premiere like “No Way Out” is just part of the routine. AMC splitting the show in two every year quickly solidified The Walking Dead’s reputation for memorable beginnings to each half-season. Though it bats a lower average on finales (including last November’s whiff), the show also tends to close strongly too. But the midsection of each half-season often proves tougher to get through than a portly walker.
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Season 5 ended with Rick and company throwing their lot in with the woefully inept residents of Alexandria, setting up a potential-filled new partnership. Naïve schmoes who should already be zombie chow could benefit from the survival skills of Rick and his cutthroat crew, who in turn would get the opportunity to pull out of their recession into barbarism. There were hints of this dynamic in last fall’s batch of episodes, but the real emphasis was on the longest, hardest day in Walking Dead history.
Rick’s botched plan to dispose of an army of walkers ended with Alexandria being overrun, a process we had to watch repeatedly from multiple angles. Maintaining focus on just a handful of characters each hour was an interesting experiment, but it forced the first half of season 6 into a frustrating stall, with many episodes doubling back in time, only to move the whole of the story ahead by inches.
And then there was the boondoggle that was Schrödinger’s Glenn, which put the show’s writers in a scenario more unwinnable than the one devised to keep a fan favorite character in limbo for weeks. Individually, some of last fall’s episodes were great examples of The Walking Dead as a technical and acting showcase, but the protracted construction of the half-season proved consistently unsatisfying. It’s the filler between the bookends that continues to bedevil one of TV’s most popular shows. The better “No Way Out” ended up being, the more viewers would have to brace themselves for the expected comedown.